Body and Blood of Christ
Good and wicked alike receive Him, but…
Today, the feast of Corpus Christi (Body of Christ) honors Jesus' great gift of Himself in Holy Communion. He who receives communion in sin will increase in sin, for he has mocked Christ's gift of Himself. St. Paul constantly warns us against unworthy communion: "A man should examine himself first; only then should he eat of the bread and drink of the cup."
St. Cyprian, the great third-century bishop of Carthage repeated Paul's warning, on the basis of his own experience. In the year 250, the Roman emperor Decius commanded that all citizens, Christians included, offer sacrifice to the pagan gods, and then receive "communion" by eating the sacrificed meat and drinking the sacrificed wine. Frightened by the threat of death, hundreds of Christians hastened to commit the prescribed idolatry. Then, with equal haste, they tried to get back into the good graces of the Church. St. Cyprian tells us that one of those Christians who had received the idolatrous communion dared to mingle with the Christian faithful on the following Sunday and held out his hands to receive the body of Christ. But it didn't work. "He could not eat or handle the holy of the Lord," says Cyprian, "but found in his hands when opened that he had a cinder."
God seldom shows his displeasure with an unworthy communicant in such a startling manner. He leaves it to the conscience of each guilty one to reproach himself for insulting the King of Love. But in the feast day Mass of Corpus Christi the Church cautions us against this sacrilege in the profound poem of St. Thomas Aquinas, the Lauda Sion Salvatorem: "The good and wicked alike receive, but with the unlike destiny of life or death. To the wicked it is death, but life to the good. See how different is the result, though each receives the same." (Sequence of today's Mass).
-Father Robert F. McNamara
Q532: What is the "link" between the Incarnation and the Holy Eucharist?
Did you ever notice how the "heavy duty" articles of faith (i.e., Most Holy Trinity; Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ) are placed immediately after Pentecost Sunday? This placement reminds a thoughtful Catholic that it is only by the grace of God and the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit, who guides His Church into all truth, that we are enabled to believe in these divine "mysteries." The "link" you speak of is the self-revelation of God. In the Incarnation, God assumed our human nature and became man, accomplishing our salvation in that same human nature (CCC #461). This is what makes us "Christian," the sign of our faith; we believe that Jesus is the Son of God and became incarnate for us. In the Eucharist, God becomes present to us in a very special way – his "real presence," not just a symbolic presence. We believe that Jesus is "wholly and entirely present" in the element of consecrated bread, and also in the element of consecrated wine. This dogma of faith has been reaffirmed many times over the centuries, including the Council of Trent in the 16th century. In the Incarnation, God came to share our life. In the Eucharist, we share in the life of God. As our bishops teach us, the Eucharist is the "source and summit of the whole Christian life." God remains present to His Church in this unique way – a visible presence (Incarnation) has been exchanged for a sacramental presence (Eucharist). You cannot be a true Catholic without believing unconditionally in the real presence of Jesus in the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist. Faith always precedes understanding. Pray to the Holy Spirit to strengthen your faith in this essential and foundational belief!
KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! Do you faithfully observe the Church's teaching fasting before receiving Holy Communion (one hour without food or drink, other than water and medicine)? Why does the Church have this law? What does dressing properly for Mass have to do with this Sacrament (CCC #1387)? If you are having difficulty with understanding this most holy Sacrament of Eucharist, please discuss it with a deacon or priest of your choice.
The Blood of the New Covenant
The reading from Exodus tells us of God making a covenant with Israel which established a loving relationship between them. It was sealed with blood sprinkled on the altar which represented God and on the people. They were now, so to speak, of one blood, a mutual self-giving, like a marriage. Moses read the terms of the covenant to all the people and they pledged themselves to honor this relationship to God. They sealed the covenant with blood , sprinkling it on the altar, the symbol of God, and on the people who were now "one blood" with the Lord.
The Letter to the Hebrews speaks of Jesus as the mediator of a new covenant relationship, sealed with blood. and based on self-giving love. In the Gospel Jesus interprets his imminent death as a covenant sacrifice and reminds us that in every mass we reaffirm that covenant relationship. It is sort of like a renewal of marriage vows tying us more closely to Christ and to one another.
Lord Jesus, you gave your body and shed your blood on the cross to seal your covenant with us. In this Mass you again give your body and blood under the sacramental signs of bread and wine. Help us to keep faith with the covenant . Help us to see what this demands of us and give us the strength to reaffirm and keep our covenant pledge to you.